Chemistry 101


It was a school day, December 1964 and I was rummaging through the house looking for my Christmas presents.

Since my brothers were both in High School, they no longer came home for lunch… so everyday I had about 45 minutes and the whole place to myself!

Time was of the essence because everything had to look totally untouched by the time I went back to school and it would take me a several minutes to make and eat a bologna sandwich and a bit longer to open and heat a can of  Campbell’s Chicken Noodle soup.

I would look in the obvious place; the back of Mom and Dad’s closet.  With a flashlight in hand, crawling on the floor over shoes, boots and umbrellas, I saw the edges of shopping bags, way  back, in the corner!  Eureka!

I was overcome with a feeling of despair, because as I went though each bag there was NOTHING for me!  A sweater with flowers on it; that must be for Aunt Honey.  An Old Spice aftershave set, this one with a shaving brush; that was definitely for Uncle Charlie.  Two pair of “No Iron” slacks… what the heck was Dacron?  A couple button down collared shirts, a pair of slippers, a nightgown, some pipe tobacco!

This was bullshit!

I put everything back, exactly as it had been found and crawled backwards out of the closet, straightening the shoes, boots and umbrellas.

After quickly checking the time, I was back in Mom and Dads room.  “Ahhhh, I’m so stupid!” There it was… right in front of me; the huge double bed, with all that room underneath!

As I lifted up the corner of the cream coloured, chenille bedspread and pointed the flashlight into the dark space.  I could see the caramel brown colour of a very large cardboard box.  Wait!  “Holy crap Batman,” there were several cardboard boxes! What a goldmine!  My mind was racing, I was running out of time, but had to get at least a glimpse at what was inside these mysterious, unmarked boxes.

I carefully lifted the flaps on the largest, long rectangle  box.  I removed the white tissue paper, and found a wooden rack, securely holding numerous bottles, beakers and test tubes!

I pulled out a second box and inside found a blue metal case with two clip locks on the side.  I unlocked the clips, opened the case and found row after row of little brown, labelled bottles with black screw tops.  Holy Moly! These were “chemicals,” real chemicals!

This was a real chemistry set!  Not a little kid, “toy” chemistry set, like the ones you see on TV, but a real, possibly dangerous, chemistry set!

What a find!  This stuff had to be mine!  My brothers were 16 and 17, way too old for this!  …and besides they were getting Dacron, “No Iron” slacks!

Wow! Me a scientist.  I had never thought about it, but sure, why not?  Why couldn’t I be a famous scientist and like Marie Curie or some other woman scientist who’s names escape me at that moment, but why not me!  I could save the world; cure cancer; the possibilities were endless.

I carefully packed everything back into the boxes; pushed  each one of them back into the very centre of the under-bed space; made sure the bedspread was free of creases or wrinkles and set off for school.

The weeks prior to Christmas were always long and maddening, but this year each day seemed to last like a week! It felt like Christmas would NEVER arrive.  I went to bed on Christmas Eve at about 7:30 because I couldn’t wait for my new life as a famous Scientist to begin.  I fantasised about working in the kitchen, with the benson burner flame heating up a thick blue liquid.  I’d have my safety goggles on, mixing dangerous chemicals and warning my brothers to “Stay back,” so that the thick, billowing blue smoke didn’t get into their unprotected eyes!

Christmas morning I woke up about 5:00am and tried to wake my brothers, as I had done for the previous 8 or 9 years.  This year they were totally disinterested in getting up…   Perhaps they had found the “No Iron” Dacron slacks and lost interest. .

No matter, I went into the living room, plugged the Christmas tree lights in and the whole room started to glow with the beautiful, warm, muted light only a coloured, glass bulb can give off.

I started going through the beautifully wrapped packages;  “To Aunty Honey,”  “To Dad,” “To Bunky,” “To Greg.”  Finally, “To Lissa,” about damn time!   …but hey, wait… this was a small, cardboard box like the ones you get at Denholms and find clothes in!!!

I can’t remember what was even in that box, or any of my other packages either.  I only remember being surprised and disappointed when I didn’t find a single test tube, microscope side, bottle, or beaker.

It was so frustrating because I couldn’t even ask Mom and Dad what had happened to the chemistry set that I had found that day.  I couldn’t ask;  “Where did the boxes go?” “Who got all that cool stuff?” “How am I supposed to become a famous scientist, now?”  I just kept my mouth shut.

As the years went by I eventually forgot about the chemistry set.  I stopped sneaking around the house looking for my presents. I even stopped waking up at the crack of dawn and running into the living room.

It wasn’t until my mother was in the hospital, dying from cancer, that I finally got the courage to ask, “Mom…. what happened to that chemistry set that I should have gotten for Christmas when I was about 10?”

It took her a few minutes to remember, but then she smiled and asked how I knew about it in the first place!  I had to come clean and admit to my pre-Christmas snooping!  We both laughed, and she explained that her and Dad had decided I was too young for it and that they were afraid I’d blow up the house.

So much for me becoming a famous scientist!

I became me instead.









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